Rare technical metals fulfil valuable functions in many devices and appliances, for example mobile phones, computer monitors and cars. Some of these metals are used in minute, finely distributed volumes. These are mostly lost when the products are disposed of. For ecological reasons, the careful use and recycling of these substances is a matter of urgency.
Rare technical metals, which include the "rare earths" like neodymium, lanthanum, europium and thulium, are indispensable to the manufacturers of magnets, engines, monitors and other electrotechnical and electronics applications. In general, the rare metals are important for all key technologies. Due to the rapid development of the latter, it is difficult to predict which substances will play an important role in the future.
Production has impacts on the environment
Mining companies extract tonnes of rock to obtain a few grams of these high-tech metals. Chemicals are often used to extract the metals from the rock, hence the watercourses and water bodies in the vicinity of mines are often very polluted. From a sustainability perspective, the reduction of environmental pollution in raw materials production is a priority.
Opportunities for the federal authorities to exert influence
Rare technical metals are not mined in Switzerland. Hence, the federal authorities have few opportunities to influence the way in which such raw materials are produced and the associated ecological impacts. Possible measures in this area include international agreements, the development of standards and certificates and technical cooperation in the areas of recovery and recycling.
In contrast, the Federal Council can decide what happens at the end of the lifecycle of products that contain technical metals. For example, in the context of an ordinance it could require that certain metals be recovered from waste. This could contribute to increasing the availability of the raw material and avoiding the environmental impacts associated with the new production of such materials.
Funding has been promised for the development of technical processes for efficient recovery in the context of technology promotion.
The FOEN is active
The FOEN examines the extent to which it is economically and ecologically worthwhile to recover technical metals from electronic components in Switzerland. A few studies have been carried out on the potential and options for electrical and electronic devices in this regard and for motor-vehicle electronics.
The Ordinance on the Return, Take-Back and Disposal of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (ORDEE of 14 January 1998) is currently being revised. A guideline for the recycling of rare technical metals is also being examined in this context.
Scarce technology metals - applications, criticalities and intervention options (PDF, 3 MB, 30.09.2011)Study commissioned by the FOEN
Seltene Metalle in Elektro- und Elektronikgeräten - Vorkommen und Rückgewinnungstechnologien (PDF, 811 kB, 23.12.2011)Study commissioned by the FOEN, in German with summary in English
Strategien für die Rückgewinnung seltener Metalle - Ergebnisse eines Workshops mit ExpertInnen (PDF, 2 MB, 23.12.2011)Study commissioned by the FOEN, in German with summary in English
Verwertung seltener Metalle aus der Automobilelektronik in der Schweiz: Systemübersicht und Probenahmekonzept (PDF, 1 MB, 02.04.2012)Study commissioned by the FOEN, in German with summary in English
Last modification 11.07.2019